Epcot’s Norway Pavilion: the past, present, and future

Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Green Loop. Today we are taking you on a virtual tour of Epcot’s World Showcase!


Epcot's Norway Pavilion: the past, present, and future

The 58,000 square foot Norway Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase has been the center of lots of talk and debate the past year, as it is undergoing refurbishment to bring Arendelle a little closer to home. People were up in arms when the Pavilion’s ride, Maelstrom, was closing – but prior to that, the ride (though enjoyable) was hardly on the top of everyone’s must-do list. Ignore 99% of the people that tell you otherwise. :)

But what else has gone on at this pavilion? What do we make of the rumors that Norway is “so mad about the Frozen invasion”, or the opposite tales that circulate saying the country dropped the ball when it could have changed the outcome?

norway pavilion 1988

Norway pavilion 1988. C. Disney Parks

How did it all begin?

The Norway pavilion opened in Epcot on June 3, 1988. Prior to its opening, plans had been in the works for a Denmark pavilion, potentially sponsored by Lego. To each his own, but I feel like rainbow colored building blocks – even if made in the country represented – would have felt more out of place than a fictitious castle based on research trips to the pavilion’s home country. But I digress…

norway

Today as well as in its original form, the pavilion was designed to look like a Norwegian village. Four different styles of Norwegian architecture were represented, but the imagineers did an excellent job of making the village look cohesive and welcoming. The Stave church at the front of the pavilion was representative of the medieval wooden church buildings common in that part of Europe, most of which remain in Norway today; the table-service offering Restaurant Akershus looked very much like a castle of the same name in Oslo. Kringla Bakeri Og Cafe served traditional Norwegian delicacies such as pastries and salmon. A number of shops offered troll souvenirs (not this kind!), fragrances and lotions from Norway, and the cutest sweater I would never, ever consider buying thanks to its $695.00 price tag. (I’m sure it’s useful in the cold winters in Scandinavia, but it’s a little over the top here – even in yucky Ohio winters.) Finally, there was a replica Viking ship that doubled as a children’s play area (which would remain there until 2008).

Norway Pavilion Viking Ship

C. Jack Spence, allears.net

The Norway pavilion was the final full-size pavilion to be add to the World Showcase. At it’s opening, Prince Harald V provided a dedication that was also broadcast live to major television stations in Norway. Princess Sonja and the Norwegian Royal Guard were in attendance. Red, white, and blue balloons, representing Norway’s flag, were released after the dedication speech and before a fireworks display. Investors in Norway had raised $30 million to fund the pavilion, to which Disney added an additional 2/3 of the total cost. This put the Norwegian people in a position to have much say over the pavilion.

Norway Pavilion Maelstrom entrance

When the pavilion opened though, the Maelstrom ride wasn’t yet ready. In original plans, the ride was to take a more mythological path. The Sherman Brothers worked on a song for the fanciful journey, but were taken off the project when the investors wanted to focus more on reality and boosting tourism than on trolls and gnomes. Maelstrom became a viking ship ride through the industries, sites, and experiences of Norway. It opened in July 1988, but not without a few issues. Guests got soaked without warning, and some riders were even thrown from the boats! Ultimately, the ride was a moderate success from a crowd standpoint, and a huge success bringing new technology to the parks. It was the first ride to travel backwards, and the first to use black light reactive Audio Animatronics. The goal to boost tourism was also a great success. In the first year the pavilion was open, Disney reports that there were on average 150 guests requesting more information on travel to Norway. On the receiving end, Norway reports an increase of anywhere from 500-700% during the first 1-2 years of the pavilion’s operation.

Norwegian mural in maelstrom

In 1992 the private investors sold their shares to Disney, who now owned the pavilion in its entirety. A relationship with Norway continued for several years though, with the government providing $200,000 annually to help fund the exhibit. In turn, they continued to see a noteworthy boost in tourism. After 10 years with this partnership arrangement, Norway stopped these payments in 2002. Changes were made to the pavilion over time, such as adding princess to Akershus (now the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall). At one point representatives from Norway offered Disney an updated film to replace the sorely dated one at the end of the attraction, but Disney did not think the quality was sufficient. When asked to provide money for Disney to make a new film, Norway declined.

 

Did you know?

Norway cast members

c. Disney Casting

Even after the dissolution of a formal relationship between Disney and the Norwegian government, the pavilion is still staffed by more than 100 cast members who take contracts one year at a time to move from Norway and work. One of my favorite things about World Showcase is the authenticity added by so many cast members working each pavilion representing their home countries.

During Epcot’s Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, the Stave church and the Norway pavilion are one of only two pavilions which do not light up during the finale. There are many “reasons” that swirl around the internet as to why this is the case; it turns out that Morocco doesn’t light up because Islamic law forbids decoration of mosques (of which one of the buildings is a replica), but the exclusion of lights on the Norway pavilion is simply a matter of symmetry and visual appeal.

So what’s in store?

KATHY MANGUM presents Norway ride at D23 Expo

C. Disney

Obviously the pavilion stayed open without any input or payment from Norway, with Disney now entirely in control of operations. For quite some time it was used as a base for the Phineas & Ferb World Showcase Adventure, and the Kim Possible activity before it. In 2014, after the wild and continued success of Frozen, Disney announced that Maelstrom would be closing. In its place would be a similarly structured experience, “Frozen Ever After”, rethemed with Frozen storylines, scenes, and characters. Reportedly, Disney offered Norwegian officials the opportunity to partner again in advance of this announcement, to provide the financial backing once again and have input on updating the pavilion as they preferred. Ultimately, they decided it wasn’t worth the investment.

Details that have been released regarding the ride suggests it will “take guests back to the movie, without retelling the same story”. First, guests will visit the Winter in Summer Festival where residents of Arendelle celebrate their favorite season. The queue will be themed to include Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post, with guests getting a peak at his shop, hearing his famous, “Yoo hoo!”, and even helping him clear steam from the sauna and his windows. We’ll visit with Olaf and Sven, Grand Pabbie, and more of our friends from the franchise.

elsa singing let it go in the norway ride Frozen Ever After

C. Disney Parks

Kathy Magnum, imagineering creative executive on the ride, says the next “room” is the centerpiece of the whole ride. Giant doors open to reveal Elsa on her balcony singing “Let it Go”, while snow flurries fly around guests and fill the room. The ride finish with Marshmallow, the Snowgees, and a fireworks finale.

Norway to get a meet and greet at Anna and Elsa's Sommerhus

C. Disney

In addition to the updated ride, an elaborate meet and greet area called “The Royal Sommerhus” is being constructed where guests can visit Anna and Elsa at their Summer home in Arendelle.  The building that houses the meet and greet is modeled after a real, historic log cabin in the Norway countryside. “Frozen Ever After” is set to be complete before this summer, with openings rumored as early as May 1, 2016.

Is there anything to see there until “Frozen Ever After” opens?

Inside the Stave Church is currently a gallery and display showing the history, culture, and folklore of Norway, sharing with guests how the filmmakers of Frozen were inspired by trips to Scandinavia and by their research about its history and present day.

Frozen display inside the Stave church

Akershus still hosts Princess Storybook Dining for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Kringla continues to serve quick Norwegian fare, where fan favorites include Kringles (specialty pretzels), Lefses (potato pancakes with cinnamon and sugar), and “School Bread”.

School Bread, c. Disney Food Blog

School Bread, c. Disney Food Blog

The Puffin’s Roost – a series of interconnected stores – remains a popular destination for World Showcase shopping. These days you can find books about Scandinavian culture, as well as Hans Christian Anderson tales. You’ll also have your choice of chocolates, sterling silver jewelry, Geir and Laila scents and lotions, knives, clothing, and more.

C. Disney

C. Disney

 

NorwayPavilion?

What is YOUR favorite part of the Norway Pavilion so far? I’m a sucker for the Laila hand lotion, and have a bottle or two at home!

For more info on Epcot’s World Showcase,
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!


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